Historic finals highlight start of NHRA Countdown

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship got off to a historic start in the final round of Sunday’s Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders earned her third straight victory and 19th of her career to pass legendary driver Shirley Muldowney and move into second on the NHRA all-time wins list for a female driver. Angelle Sampey is No. 1 with 41 career triumphs.

Enders relied on having one of the best reaction times in the sport to defeat the faster car of Vincent Nobile in the final round. In so doing, Enders took a commanding lead in the Pro Stock standings as she pursues a second consecutive championship.

“This is pretty incredible; it’s pretty surreal,” Enders said. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys. We have fun racing together. When I get in that car and close the door, there is not one single doubt that the car is prepared as well as it can be. It’s just up to me to drive it right.”

In Top Fuel, veteran racers Antron Brown and J.R. Todd became the first African-American drivers to meet in an NHRA final round.

Brown (3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph) rolled to his fifth win of 2015, his 36th career win in Top Fuel and also took the points lead following the first race in the six-race Countdown.

Todd, who was driving a special car honoring rock music legend’s Jimi Hendrix Foundation, ran 4.063 seconds at 286.32 mph.

In 2006, Todd became the first African-American driver to win a race in the Mello Yello Series. In 2012, Brown became the NHRA’s first black world champion and the first in a major U.S. auto racing series.

“It’s pretty awesome when you look at that,” Brown said. “J.R. has been racing longer in Top Fuel than I have.

“You never think about things like that. We’ve always talked about (racing each other) in the final one day. We both threw down on the tree and it was a great race. It just shows you what this NHRA sport is about.

“When I was a kid I got to come to this sport and was able to see guys like Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and Kenny Bernstein. It gave me that ray of hope because I could see what they’re doing because of all the access this sport offers. To be here racing in this sport so long, it is just a dream.”

In Funny Car, Del Worsham (4.086 seconds at 307.16 mph) earned his first win of 2015 and the 27th of his career, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.119 at 300.93). Worsham also takes the Funny Car points lead.

“Funny Car is extremely competitive right now,” Worsham said. “These are the races we are going to need to win if we’re going to win the championship.”

The biggest upset of the day overall came in the first round of Funny Car eliminations. Jack Beckman, who had been the hottest driver in the sport the last month-plus, was upset by Courtney Force, who failed to make the Countdown and is now in a position to play the role of spoiler to Countdown contestants like Beckman.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending series champ Andrew Hines (6.880 seconds at 195.11 mph) outran Matt Smith (6.910 at 192.49) to earn his 40th career PSM win and his third career win at zMAX Dragway.

“I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said.

With five races remaining in the season, the Countdown to the Championship moves into the second round next weekend with the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  J.R. Todd; 3.  Leah Pritchett; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6. Clay Millican; 7.  Larry Dixon; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Richie Crampton; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11. Pat Dakin; 12.  Chris Karamesines; 13.  Terry McMillen; 14.  Brittany Force; 15.  Shawn Langdon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  John Force; 4.  Alexis DeJoria; 5.  Ron Capps; 6. Courtney Force; 7.  Shane Westerfield; 8.  Matt Hagan; 9.  Robert Hight; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11. Bob Gilbertson; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  John Hale; 14.  Tim Wilkerson; 15.  Jack Beckman; 16. Dave Richards.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Larry Morgan; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6. Chris McGaha; 7.  Shane Gray; 8.  Bo Butner; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Jonathan Gray; 11.  Kenny Delco; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  John Gaydosh Jr; 14.  Wally Stroupe; 15.  Alex Laughlin; 16.  Drew Skillman.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Matt Smith; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Steve Johnson; 6.  Eddie Krawiec; 7.  Angelle Sampey; 8.  Redell Harris; 9.  Chip Ellis; 10.  Karen Stoffer; 11.  Hector Arana Jr; 12.  Chaz Kennedy; 13.  Shawn Gann; 14.  Jim Underdahl; 15.  Angie Smith; 16.  Hector Arana.


Top Fuel: Antron Brown, 3.832 seconds, 311.56 mph  def. J.R. Todd, 4.063 seconds, 286.32 mph.

Funny Car: Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.086, 307.16  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.119, 300.93.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.581, 210.97  def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.575, 211.13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 195.11  def. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.910, 192.49.


TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.851, 322.11 def. Dave Connolly, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.814, 318.09 def. Pat Dakin, 4.149, 232.79; Clay Millican, 5.882, 106.37 was unopposed; Tony Schumacher, 3.844, 321.19 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.452, 188.04; Larry Dixon, 5.174, 262.54 def. Brittany Force, 5.327, 131.02; Antron Brown, 3.849, 312.64 def. Terry McMillen, 4.739, 148.46; J.R. Todd, 4.516, 228.11 def. Shawn Langdon, 6.111, 138.36; Steve Torrence, 3.887, 312.21 def. Richie Crampton, 3.895, 310.13;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.823, 314.90 def. Torrence, broke; Schumacher, 3.865, 318.92 def. Kalitta, 3.998, 298.54; Pritchett, 4.095, 271.68 def. Dixon, 4.147, 241.71; Todd, 3.929, 298.21 def. Millican, 4.073, 261.93;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.853, 311.85 def. Schumacher, 10.556, 72.86; Todd, 3.848, 312.21 def. Pritchett, 3.878, 309.49;

FINAL — Brown, 3.832, 311.56 def. Todd, 4.063, 286.32.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.107, 301.94 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 8.049, 97.48; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.120, 304.94 def. Dave Richards, Toyota Solara, 11.309, 79.78; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.338, 303.71 def. Bob Gilbertson, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.306, 150.92; Ron Capps, Charger, 5.887, 276.29 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 6.162, 190.11; Shane Westerfield, Charger, 4.269, 252.95 def. Robert Hight, Chey Camaro, 4.371, 277.20; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.266, 265.06 def. John Hale, Charger, 6.201, 109.58; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.086, 305.63 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 9.391, 58.24; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.119, 303.78 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.965, 158.17;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 4.095, 302.08 def. C. Force, 6.139, 146.88; DeJoria, 4.123, 305.49 def. Westerfield, 6.285, 110.99; Worsham, 4.235, 290.69 def. Hagan, 7.997, 98.52; J. Force, 4.143, 305.49 def. Capps, 4.209, 275.06;

SEMIFINALS — Worsham, 4.138, 297.29 def. J. Force, 4.148, 303.03; Johnson Jr., 4.118, 299.33 def. DeJoria, 11.537, 82.99;

FINAL — Worsham, 4.086, 307.16 def. Johnson Jr., 4.119, 300.93.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.620, 210.44 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, foul; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.602, 210.05 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.564, 211.03; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.583, 210.05 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.602, 209.46; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.586, 211.23 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.847, 53.95; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.568, 210.97 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.704, 207.24; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.545, 211.96 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.888, 200.41; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.565, 211.10 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.645, 209.33; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 211.10 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.640, 208.52;

QUARTERFINALS — Morgan, 8.170, 188.25 def. S. Gray, 8.236, 180.33; Johnson, 6.626, 210.28 def. Butner, 13.477, 65.32; Enders, 6.588, 210.67 def. McGaha, 6.620, 210.18; Nobile, 6.611, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.587, 211.63;

SEMIFINALS — Nobile, 6.599, 210.28 def. Morgan, 6.641, 209.30; Enders, 6.586, 210.31 def. Johnson, 6.611, 209.59;

FINAL — Enders, 6.581, 210.97 def. Nobile, 6.575, 211.13.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.864, 196.02 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.995, 191.32; Redell Harris, Buell, 6.982, 191.40 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.926, 194.24; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.927, 192.58 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.917, 194.10; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.880, 194.97 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.000, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.900, 193.90 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.988, 190.65; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.947, 193.02 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.027, 193.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.914, 193.68 def. Angie Smith, foul; Matt Smith, 6.924, 191.43 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.934, 194.16;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.872, 195.56 def. Sampey, 6.973, 190.97; M. Smith, 6.918, 192.52 def. Harris, 6.990, 191.08; Hines, 6.888, 194.86 def. Johnson, 6.920, 193.63; Tonglet, 6.922, 195.08 def. Krawiec, 6.920, 194.58;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.928, 193.10 def. Savoie, foul; M. Smith, 6.961, 189.68 def. Tonglet, 7.145, 162.96;

FINAL — Hines, 6.880, 195.11 def. M. Smith, 6.910, 192.49.


Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,199; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,190; 3.  Larry Dixon, 2,117; 4.  J.R. Todd, 2,114; 5.  Richie Crampton, 2,101; 6.  (tie) Brittany Force, 2,082; Doug Kalitta, 2,082; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 2,073; 9.  Steve Torrence, 2,069; 10.  Dave Connolly, 2,035.

Funny Car: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,181; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,175; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,147; 4.  Matt Hagan, 2,133; 5.  John Force, 2,125; 6.  Ron Capps, 2,100; 7.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,071; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,067; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,055; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,042.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,231; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,148; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,127; 4.  Allen Johnson, 2,122; 5.  Larry Morgan, 2,114; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 2,103; 7.  Jason Line, 2,093; 8.  Shane Gray, 2,085; 9.  Drew Skillman, 2,053; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,032.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,193; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,173; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,141; 4.  Matt Smith, 2,136; 5.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,112; 6.  Karen Stoffer, 2,089; 7.  Jim Underdahl, 2,062; 8.  Chip Ellis, 2,053; 9.  Hector Arana, 2,042; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,010.

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.